Tuesday, November 07, 2006

What's My Score? Gaming in Museums

"Putting Fun into Functional"is a really fabulous powerpoint presentation by Amy Jo Kim of shufflebrain, a unique game design company. In this presentation, she details five core "game mechanics" that make games compelling, fun, and addictive, and talks about how they are being applied in successful web applications like MySpace and Netflix.

The five mechanics are: collecting (accumulating monopoly bucks or dragon-slaying swords), points/score, feedback from the system/game, social exchanges (trading stuff, giving and receiving gifts or comments), and customization/personalization. Each one of these amplifies the extent to which the player/user feels connected to the game or experience offered.

There have got to be some great ways to apply these mechanics to museums. Here are some ideas... and a lot of questions.

Collecting: Some museums are using barcodes or RFID to track what exhibits the visitor uses. The visitor can leave with a printout of the activities they did, or come home to a website full of links/images that were "saved" at the museum. Is this a gimmick or does it give visitors a sense of accomplishment? In a game, collecting tools/money "matters" because it allows you to get to the next level or face a tougher challenge. How can you "level up" in a museum? What will collecting more experiences/artifacts "get" you?

Points: In a game, points get you closer to your goal, or, in some games (Pacman, pinball), they make you feel good and give you a secondary goal besides staying alive. Is there any value to getting a score for your museum experience? This may sound gross. But I've enjoyed plenty of museum interactives that take a long time to "reward" me with some kind of aha. Many guests probably walk away before they get there. What if we had a way to communicate how close you are to your goal, a compelling and accessible reason-like points-to stick around?

Feedback: At a basic level, this is what a good interactive provides. Am I doing it right? Am I good? The more flexibly the experience can adapt to its user, the better.

Social Exchanges: This is fascinating and somewhat unexplored in museums. What if instead of emailing something I enjoyed back to myself, I generated an ecard to send to someone else? Perhaps I'd be more compelled because I now have an audience I'm creating FOR, and I'm also bringing a non-visitor into the experience, which is great. Could there be ways in museums to foster social interactions between strangers by incentivizing them in some way?

Customization: Very tricky. The museum is a fixed space--how do you create a highly personalized experience within it?

I'd love to see a museum approach a "standard" content topic and apply game rules rather than exhibit rules to its design. Anyone up for it?

7 comments, add yours!:

Anonymous said...

Hey Nina, nice blog! Best online pharmacy v ai gra bo tox sex whoopie pie!!!

Seriously now -- nice blog. Caught it on the ASTC Digest this morning, and though I'm neck-deep in an IMLS proposal, I'm stopping by while my coffee brews.

Questions: are game mechanics gender neutral? Do girls and boys compete identically? There's this DragonFlyTV SciGirls proposal I'm putting together next week, and

Only thing I really liked in the mechanics PPT was the Social Exchanges -- THAT has some promise, and it could drive visitorship (the unspoken mantra of all museum executives?). I'd like to think more about how we can all do that better -- how can we stimulate word-of-mouth?

That sounds dirty, somehow...


Anonymous said...

Nik & Nina,
There has been a considerable amount of research on how museums are socio-cultural in nature. The give and take happens in museums even when they aren't designed for it - both among social groups and sometimes across social groupings. However, it seems like the two of you want to take this a step further to interact with people you don't see who visit at different times (like email and the web instead of IM and the web).

Nina Simon said...

Nik and Katz,

I think we want to motivate more social engagement in museums both between "real time" and "distributed" visitors. Frankly, I rarely see strangers interacting with each other in museums--only when the content is extremely provocative and the "What the heck IS this?" escapes unbidden.

Lots of museums are working on extending their reach into people's lives through repeat visits, online extension activities, etc. Most of these methods are very individually focused on single visitors, rather than connecting people to each other. People log in to MySpace a zillion times a day to see what messages people have left for them. It would be amazing if people felt the same compulsion to come back to the museum to get their... whatever. So what could that whatever be?

Some possibilities on social exchanges:
-minor option: send someone an ecard from the museum of a favorite activity/artifact (instead of sending it to yourself).
-leader boards for visitors--in a museum where visitors have multiple opportunities to create content, there could be a place to display the "top" visitors who are giving content.
-other ideas are wandering off topic. We should discuss this question more, though. How to motivate social exchanges in museums? Nik, want to put together a post?

Anonymous said...


Currently working on a federal proposal to experiment with "hands-on science + farmers markets as economic/education drivers for low-income neighborhoods"... talk to you after Wednesday at midnight!


Jon Markowitz Bijur said...

I like the trading cards/collecting the museum idea. The level of detail I recall about Magic: The Gathering cards 10 years later is kind of disturbing to think about. As I recall, a key aspect of what made games and collecting like that engaging was how easily one object was compared to another, on a whole variety of attributes: rarity, power statistics, beauty of the object, funny quotes, etc.

Hey you party people: has anyone tried making trading cards of the objects or exhibits in their museums?

Nina Simon said...


There are these very cool Artist Trading Cards out there with a life and community of their own, but I agree that a game-based trading card experience would be AWESOME for museums. What if you got a different card each time you visited? Get superpowered special ones at programs, special exhibits, or other unique events. Nik-goes to your interest in driving repeat visits-and another simple way to extend the visitor experience beyond the museum walls.

I dated an artist once who created a set of Magic-ish cards that were all about STDs. It was vaguely educational, but mostly a fun, gross, and goofy game. Would people "play" in the museum with that kind of content?

Anonymous said...


Social interaction among strangers is tough...one design that seemed to work was to make the game explicitly competitive but design the game in such a way as to benefit the entire group if you "do well". You get group and individual kudos. (This was a hybrid of media, software, and hands-on interactive game for 10 players in a scenically accurate, oil production platform simulation at Petrosains.)